Selecting an agency is not easy. We get it! Sitting on the agency’s side, we can see how difficult it is to select, meet, brief, manage and evaluate agencies during a pitch process. We also know that picking the wrong agency is an expensive exercise, which is exactly why you shouldn’t only rely on chemistry, smooth sales talks or your gut when making the final decision.
Here are some tips, which can help marketers review potential agencies as part of a pitching process. You can also download our free agency scorecard to help you better evaluate agencies during the pitch process.
First consider whether you really need a full-scale pitch process
Has your relationship with your current agency gone stale? If so, first see if you can’t salvage the relationship instead of going shopping for a new agency. A pitch process takes time and effort, and onboarding a new agency takes just as long, so first meet with your incumbent and have an honest discussion about your needs and where they’re not delivering.
Ok, so you’ve made up your mind and decided to go out to pitch.
Know what you are looking for
Do your homework and create a list of maximum six agencies. Ask for recommendations, look at agencies in your area and research agencies that provide the services you need. While specialist agencies, say a digital agency, are great at delivering one service, you might want to consider a full-service agency that can offer you integrated campaign solutions, which work better from a budget and agency management perspective.
Work on a briefing document
Before you start calling agencies, type out what you are looking for. This will help you form a clear understanding of the services you want to outsource versus do in-house, plus it gives you and your management team an opportunity to ensure that you are all on the same page. Trust me, nothing is more frustrating than going through a pitch process, only to be told that the “marketing requirements are being reviewed” or “we’ve put it on hold until we have restructured internally”. This can be a one or two page document – agencies can revert with questions if they need more clarity.
Contact the agencies
Make contact and be clear on the type of service you are looking for (integrated, digital, pure SEO, public relations, etc.) and provide an overview of the business. Give a ballpark budget (think this through, as many hours can be saved if you are honest and give an amount from the word go) and give delivery milestones. Based on this information you might already be able to eliminate some agencies based on services, time and budget.
Be clear on your expectations
Be transparent and explain the process, answer their questions, let them know who is part of the decision-making process and if there are elements that will weigh more than others, such as creative or a particular technology platform.
Put a panel together
From this stage you should be using a scorecard. A panel of three works well to give you different perspectives, spot potential issues and ensure you haven’t missed any information. Brief your colleagues and give them copies of the scorecard beforehand.
Think about chemistry
An agency relationship is often one that lasts for years. For this reason, it’s a good idea to meet with an agency before they submit a proposal. Have this meeting at your offices and allow enough time for questions. Also ask to visit their offices, to get a feel for the agency culture and what the team is like.
Is creative really necessary?
Ask to be taken through the agency’s case studies and examples of ROI achieved, but think carefully whether or not you want an agency to present creative with their proposals. Agencies need to go through a discovery stage to really understand your business and objectives. By presenting creative with a proposal, you judge creative based on assumptions made on their side and concepts that might not work for you at all.
Written proposal evaluation
Use your scorecard to shortlist the agencies that you want to come back and pitch fully. The pitch meeting will be a recap of their proposals and an opportunity for you to ask questions and meet the team.
The pitch presentation
Remember that you are not looking for definitive solutions here but rather to get an overview of the agency’s problem-solving approach and their creative, technical and marketing know-how. Don’t try squeeze it all into an hour – set aside two hours and enough time for a Q&A.
Regroup with your panel
Fill in your scorecards and then go through them together to get everyone’s input. Have a look at our scorecard to help you get to a final score across categories that consider the Agency Background, People And Chemistry, The Proposals, Effectiveness And ROI.